Ekiti State, the nation’s fountain of knowledge is in a state of mourning, following the death of the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Funmilayo Adunni Olayinka, who died of cancer in Lagos last Saturday at the age of 52.
Getting official confirmation of her demise, which initially filtered into the public via online report of SaharaReporters, was difficult, as government officials who got first hand information on her death were unwilling to share it with members of the public since neither the government nor the deputy governor had given the public information on her state of health.
Members of the public had become apprehensive when government suddenly announced that Mrs Olayinka had taken sick leave and requested Ekiti people to pray for her.
Breaking the sad news, the state Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in his broadcast to the people of Ekiti State, described the late Olayinka as “a ready partner.”
“This is indeed a trying period in the life of our dear state. We have been aware of the health challenges of our deputy governor, which culminated in the government issuing a statement a month ago when she commenced sick leave, requesting that you remember her in your prayers.
“In the course of her ailment, she battled gallantly and availed herself of the best medical services within and outside Nigeria.
“In reflection of the mood of our state in this trying moment, a period of seven-day mourning shall commence from this moment during which all flags in the state will fly at half-mast. During this period also, all state official ceremonies will be suspended.
“In all of these challenges, I was of the belief that because of her courage and determination to live, she would pull through her health challenges. But man proposes and God disposes. She lost the battle.
Fayemi continued: “Fellow citizens of Ekiti State, I am pained by the exit of our deputy governor, who was my ready partner in our collective quest to develop our dear state. As my dependable ally in the struggle to free Ekiti, she was a consistent bulwark of support, especially through the period of the judicial struggle to reclaim our mandate. I was never in doubt of her unalloyed loyalty, competence and integrity. I shall miss her greatly. In the course of our struggle, she also became my wife’s best friend.”
The late Olayinka was said to have facilitated the establishment of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) in Ado-Ekiti, even when she was little known in her hometown. Her brilliance, maturity and genuine support for her boss are believed to have assisted the government in its rapid development strides across the state.
She was said to be a hardworking, God-fearing, reliable and trustworthy companion, who served the people meritoriously in various capacities, overseeing key units of government including the state Economic Management team, the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Ekiti State Tenders Board, the State Pilgrims Welfare Board, the Branding and Communications Strategy.
She was also said to have overseen the birthing of a new brand identity for the state, restored the dignity and honour of the people of Ekiti and bequeathed brand identity icons that have become unifying forces among the people regardless of age, gender, or socio-political leanings.
Her unique legacy is that women should not be excluded from active participation and high achievement in politics and governance.
It was difficult for Governor Fayemi and his wife, Bisi, who, along with some top government officials, visited the deceased’s brother’s house to console Mrs Adetutu Grace Famuagun, the 81-year-old mother of the deputy governor.
The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, in her reaction, described the late deputy governor as a beautiful and intelligent sister, who worked assiduously for the development of the state, saying; “It is with deep sense of loss that we learnt of the passing of our beautiful, intelligent sister. She was a true representative of Nigeria’s woman hood.”
Also, former governor of the old Ondo State and a chieftain of Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN), Evang Bamidele Olumilua, described Mrs Olayinka’s death as a painful experience.
Olumilua described the late Mrs Olayinka as a solid politician, who always had answers to every situation, no matter how difficult. He said she had brought glamour to governance and the politics of the state through her modest and intellectual approach in handling issues.
In his condolence message, Speaker of Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon. Adewale Omirin, said the late Mrs Olayinka was a pillar of support to Governor Kayode Fayemi’s administration, adding that she would be surely missed.
The Speaker said that as a medical doctor he knew Olayinka’s health challenge was a hopeless one but he did not expect that the ailment would claim her life so soon.
In the early hours of Sunday, some youths staged a peaceful protest over the death of Mrs. Olayinka.
The protest was not unconnected with allegation earlier raised by the deceased’s elder brother and Sasere of Ado Ekiti, High Chief Olusegun Famuagun, that some politicians of Ado-Ekiti origin were behind the sickness of his sister.
The protesters, who wore black were said to have gathered at about 6 a.m. and protested for about one and half hours before the police were drafted to the area to restore normalcy.
Prominent indigenes of Ekiti State have continued to express condolence over the sudden of deputy governor.
Minister of Police Affairs, Navy Capt. Caleb Olubolade; former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, have sent condolence messages .
The minister described the death of Mrs Olayinka as a sad event that would linger in the heart of every Ekiti indigenes for long.
Olubolade said Mrs Olayinka was a consummate and reliable team player and politician and urged Governor Fayemi to honour her by stepping up the zeal that would fast-track the actualisation of the vision they both shared.
Fayose sympathised with Governor Fayemi, the government and entire people of Ekiti State over the death of Mrs Olayinka.
Fayose, in a press statement from the Ayo Fayose Campaign Organisation (AFCO) in Ado Ekiti, said the death of Mrs Olayinka was a big loss to the state, stressing that he was confused momentarily when he heard the news.
Bamidele, in his statement, described Mrs Olayinka’s demise as a big blow to the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) and the state in general, saying the state would surely miss her immense contributions to the emancipation of womenfolk in Ekiti politics.
Bamidele, who represents Ado/Irepodun/Ifelodun Federal Constituency, said the deceased was a strong mobilising force for women participation in politics, saying her death would create a wide gap, especially among the rank and file of the Action Congress of Nigeria.
Family members who had apparently given up on her recovery but still believed miracle could happen, were said to be by her bedside, as she went through excruciating pains before she finally gave up the ghost.
Sources said the late deputy governor was diagnosed of breast cancer in 2002 when she went for routine medical checks.
A surgery was thereafter carried out on her to remove the affected breast. The situation was said to have worsened five years ago and she underwent another surgery in the United Kingdom.
“It was while undergoing chemotherapy that her condition got complicated with most of her organs affected,” a source said.
Shortly after the ACN took over in Ekiti State, the main opposition party, People’s Democratic Party(PDP), raised an alarm on the whereabouts of Mrs. Olayinka. The PDP then sought an explanation from government for the alleged frequent absence of the deputy governor at state functions.
When she finally appeared, Mrs Olayinka lambasted the opposition, saying she was hale and hearty, warning them to desist from peddling unfounded rumour.
The elder brother to the deceased and Sasere of Ado-Ekiti, Chief Segun Famuagun, had raised alarm that certain desperate politicians bent on taking the position of the deputy governor were behind Olayinka’s sickness. Although, he did not disclose the nature of the sickness, he hinted that the family had long discovered that “it is an attack” rather than what is being insinuated in some quarters.
Famuwagun, a legal practitioner, also hinted that Governor Kayode Fayemi had told him some politicians are already lobbying for her office.
Said he: “I met the governor and he told me that people are already mounting pressure on him to replace her but the governor said he would not do that. But I consider those politicians to be callous. For three and half years that they were in the trenches, where were these politicians. Besides, my sister, until recently, was hale and hearty but I can assure you she will survive it.”
The apparently disturbed Famuwagun said: “If they want to kill her because of the office she is occupying, is it not normal for the family to ask her to resign. If she is your sister, will you ask her to remain in office for the wicked to kill her? Her health matters to us than the office. And to confirm our fears, for how many weeks has she been sick that they have started presenting another candidate to the governor. Dr Fayemi told me and you can quote me.”
“But I can assure you she will bounce back and those wishing her dead should stop playing God,” he had concluded.
When the leadership of Action Congress (AC), later Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Ekiti State announced Mrs Olayinka as running mate to its governorship flag-bearer, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in 2006, she appeared not be a popular choice to party members. One of the reasons was that Fayemi, who had emerged as the party candidate through a keenly contested primaries, though an Ekiti man, was considered to be a foreign-based politician and members argued then that it was not proper picking another relatively unknown person as his deputy, most especially when many aspirants who lost to Fayemi were still aggrieved.
Mrs Olayinka later proved her mettle as she demonstrated her capacity not only to give the needed support to her boss but to protect the dignity of women in politics.
The ACN seemed to have come to terms with the sad incident and is also making effort to ensure that it did not generate bad blood or cause disunity.
The late Olayinka trained as banker and worked in the financial industry for 21 years before going into politics.
She was born in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State Nigeria on 20 June 1960. She attended Holy Trinity Grammar School, Ibadan, where she obtained her school certificate with distinction.
She attended Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo State, where she obtained her Higher School Certificate (HSC). She holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor of Business Administration [Marketing] from Central State University, Edmond, Oklahoma, United States in 1981 and 1983 respectively. She was three times winner of the Dean’s Honours roll.
She worked at various professional levels with First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Access Bank, and United Bank for Africa Plc.
She is survived by husband, children and aged parents.
By Yaqoub Popoola
This article was first published in the Daily Independent
Last modified: April 13, 2013